Friday, October 24, 2014

Bloggers Quilt Festival: ROYGBIV Entry

This is the second of my two entries into this fall's Blogger's Quilt Festival.  Three cheers to Amy and many thanks for hosting, it's always so much fun to see what everyone has been working on.

My first entry was the cuttlefish, which is in the mini-quilt category.

This is my beloved photoreceptor quilt which I'm putting in the ROYGBIV category.  I thought about putting it in the Art quilt category, but its rainbow color scheme combined with the subject matter (without photoreceptors we wouldn't even be able to see our favorite rainbow colors) tipped the scales to this category.

Do you see what I see, 2014, Shannon Conley, 23 x 37

Some of you may know this already, but in my non-art life I'm a photoreceptor cell biologist and here, I've jumped straight into linked-to-my-scientific-work territory with a quilt featuring photoreceptors.

The quilt was based on an electron micrograph taken by my quilty crafty friend Barb, who is a fabulous microscopist.  Photoreceptors are the cells in the very back of your retina which are actually responsible for sensing light and converting it into the chemical/electrical signals that are eventually processed by the brain and register as vision.  They have quite different ultrastructure from other cells, characterized most obviously by a giant long extension from the cell body.  This is called an outer segment and is filled with stacked membranous discs (like a stack of flattened whoopie cushions or something).  These discs are packed with all the proteins necessary for sensing light.  All the photoreceptors in this picture (which came from a mouse retina) are rod photoreceptors which mediate peripheral and low light vision.

Photoreceptors really are the first step in determining how we see the world, thus the name for the quilt, "Do You See What I See" (for me the answer is almost always bright rainbows of color...)

The quilt features lots of machine quilting, hand embroidery and beading, and bobbin quilting using a fabulous hand sun rainbow yarn I picked up in Germany a couple years back.

Thanks again to Amy for hosting the Blogger's Quilt Festival, and everyone say a silent thank you to his or her photoreceptors; without them you wouldn't see anything!

Bloggers Quilt Festival: Mini-Quilt Entry

It's that time of year again- the time of year when you can mention Houston and quilters immediately think of Market and IQF, and when bloggers gear up for the Bloggers Quilt Festival!  I love participating and looking at everyone's fabulous quilts and I'm super grateful to Amy for continuing to host it!

This is my entry in the mini-quilt category, you can see all the other entries in that category here, and the voting starts November 1.

My second entry (the photoreceptor quilt) is in the ROYGBIV category, so check it out too.

I made this quilt in April to donate to the annual SAQA auction.  SAQA, the Studio Art Quilts Associates is a really fabulous organization for any art quilter or even someone interested in art quilting.
Cuttlefish, Shannon Conley, 2014, 12 x 12

It started because I'd been thinking about the idea of cutwork embroidery and negative space, and how that could be used in quilting in a very free-form way.  To try it out, I made a quilt sandwich in which all three layers were synthetic (i.e. backing and front polyester and polyester batting), then traced a cuttlefish from a picture I took at the Monterey aquarium a few years back.  I free motion stitched the fish outline with cotton thread, then used my woodburning tool to cut through all three layers just inside the outline.  

It worked great, the woodburning tool cut right up to the edge of the cotton thread (which doesn't burn as easily) and sealed all three layers so there were no frayed edges or loose batting.  

After cutting out the fish, I put two layers of water soluble stabilizer under the open areas and just started thread painting.  

In the initial picture, the fish was swimming through some green foliage in front of a piece of corally-looking rock.  I thought about painting it, but I'm not very good at that.  I thought about just quilting it, but I felt like that might be too much white.  I thought about trying to color and cut out some pieces of evolon or dryer sheets and applique them on top, but nothing was really very inspiring.  

Then I saw this on Judy Simmons blog.  She has a great step-by-step tutorial so I encourage you to check it out. She describes a technique where you can transfer from a transparency to fabric. Basically, you print out your picture on the transparency, then paint your fabric with gel medium wherever you want the picture to transfer, then put the transparency (ink side down) on the fabric and rub all over it.    I tried it and it worked great!  you can see below, I did not paint over the fish part, so no ink transferred there, but it transferred really nicely everywhere else.  It's a bit mottled looking and soft-edged; you wouldn't want to use this technique for crisp printing, but for an underwater scene I thought it turned out nicely.

Then I just used about six different green fabrics (mostly polyesters, silks, and velvets) to layer leaves on top, and then quilted away.  I love that you can see the green printed leaves peeking out a bit from behind.  I think they add some nice dimension.

I really enjoyed working on this- I love fish and underwater scenes and it was fun to try so many different techniques.  I'm enamored with the way the open portions catch the light and shadows when the piece and provide a feel of transparency.  I'm super glad it could raise a little money for such a wonderful organization!

If you clicked over from the Bloggers Quilt Festival, I hope you'll come back again to see more of my work!  Thanks again to Amy for hosting!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pet Postcards

Once again Pokey Bolton and the IQF folks in Houston are collecting 4 x 6 pet postcards to raise money for Friends for Life, a no kill animal shelter in Houston.  Apparently in the last two years they've raised over $60,000 (!!) to donate by selling the postcards at IQF for $20 each.  I made some last year, and thought I'd make some more this year (especially as its the last year for it).

If you want to participate you just make them and mail them in, super easy and there's still time left. As always, I featured a few of our many family pets.  When I told my mom which ones I picked she asked why I selected those (and not others) and the simple answer was because those were the ones with good pictures on my phone the day I decided to do the photoshopping!  

As always, my message is adopt, and each of ours get a fitting message to match his or her personality:

Bentley is definitely the loviest (all-loves-all-attention-all-the-time)


Gibby (who actually lives with my mom and dad) who is not 1600-on-the-SATs-smart, but I-have-trained-my-people-to-do-exactly-what-I-want-smart.

Missy, whose defining personality trait is grouchiness yet you can't help loving her.

And the Samcat who is gone now, but really made you understand how "furry" could be a personality trait (here let me rub on you lovingly,  you don't have enough fur up your nose, in your mouth, stuck in your eyelashes, in your bed or on your clothes....)

I printed on different fabric than I usually do and am not really crazy about how it turned out, but it was fun as usual, and always best to test on a small project like this.

Also, in unrelated news, I'm super excited to say I had a piece accepted into Quilt National 2015.  The show doesn't open till next May, but hopefully some of you will get to see it if the show comes near you!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mr. Men and Little Miss Shirts

My precious nephew Alex turned one a few weeks back and my sister threw him a Mr. Men themed birthday.  She sketched and then cut out freezer paper stencils and made these adorable t-shirts for the whole family to wear at the party.  I think they turned out fantastic and super fun.  I loved these books as a kid and am so glad they're still around!

Mr. Tickle  (Dad)

Mr. Birthday (obviously for Alex)

Little Miss Chatterbox  (Mom- and lovingly appropriate)

Little Miss Hug (Anna)

Mr. Busy (Alex the busy Birthday Boy)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Art Quilts XIX: Permission to Play

If any of you will be in or near Chandler, Arizona from November 7-January 17, stop by the Chandler Center for the Arts Gallery, (250 N. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, Arizona 85225) for Art Quilts XIX: Permission to Play.

My dinosaur will be there along with tons of other great artwork.  It should be a wonderful show- the theme, storytelling quilts and playful quilts, is so much fun!  For more info, check out the Chandler Center for the Arts gallery page

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Weekend craftiness with the kids!

Mike's grandkids stayed with us for the weekend and we had a ton of fun hanging out together.  Walker is 7 and Raegan is 6 so they're really old enough to do cool projects and both of them love to craft and make things.   As soon as they get to our house they're asking to go out to my studio.  Interesting aside, ever since we built it, Mike and I have always call it "the building", but Raegan calls it my lab which is especially fun since the science lab is where I spend my daytime hours.

Anyhow, amid lots of playing at the park, ice skating, and feeding of geese and ducks (both normal and weird, anyone know what the two unlabeled ones pictured below are?) we had time for some crafting.

"regular" ducks and geese

unknown ducks?

 We made spoon people, and sculptures out of FIMO clay (alas not pictured) and Walker made a very creative minion in the style of Despicable Me.

 Raegan begged to sew so with my help she made her first quilt top.  She picked out the fabric and after some aborted attempts to rotary cut together (not such a good idea) I cut out the squares.  She liked playing with the arrangement on the design wall, and pinning/sewing/pressing (with a bit of assistance).  We didn't have time to quilt it, but she was super thrilled about her "blanket"  I'm going to layer it and pin bast it and the next time they visit I'll let her quilt it with the walking foot.

I'm so thrilled that both of them are so crafty and creative and am looking forward to spending more time with them (they just moved back closer to us).

Monday, September 15, 2014

SAQA Benefit Auction Starts today!

SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) is a fabulous group for art quilters around the world.  They sponsor and organize exhibits, hold classes and conferences, publish a journal, and promote many kinds of outreach on behalf of art quilters and fiber artists.  Every year they have a benefit auction with 12" x 12" pieces donated by members (all proceeds to support SAQA activities).

The quilts are divided into 4 groups (run almost like 4 independent auctions), and on each day of the auction the price drops.  For example, the first day for group 1 (today) the price for all pieces is $750, but at 1:45 tomorrow afternoon, it'll drop to $500, etc.  If there's a piece you love, better to snap it up early.

The auction for group 1 started today, check it out here: (  For more info on how the auction works and its schedule, see

My donation piece for this year (Cuttlefish) is in group 1, so is available now (among many many fabulous others).

Check out the auction if you have a chance!  There are bunches of fabulous pieces by a wide range of artists, and as the week goes on the prices drop to quite reasonable amounts ($75 at the end), so keep checking if there are ones you love!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop

Today (well really last Friday) was my turn for the Around the World Blog Hop.  I have no idea where this started, but I got tapped by Teresa from Third Floor Quilts.  Her artwork is outstanding, she has a very creative eye and excellent technical skills.  Definitely check it out. She's working on a series of black and white animal quilts right now; so far her cow is finished and is super fun.  She's also just finished writing a book about Japanese quilting and quilters, and I'm excited for it to come out!

1. What am I working on? 

Right now I'm finishing up (today!  tomorrow!) a quilt for a show deadline.  Its quite dark for me and features free motion cutwork and shadows reminiscent in technique but not style to two of my previous quilts:

I'm also starting a new quilt inspired by Ring Around the Mole, and have another quilt in progress similar in feel but much larger than my quilt in nomine Patris.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

This is the kind of question that I dread because I don't know the answer.  It's something I think about a lot since I think it's tied to the idea of having a defined artists voice or perspective.  Many of the artists I admire have such a clear voice. You can immediately tell one of their quilts just by looking at it, not because their work is all the same, but because there's just something about it that makes it clearly identifiable as theirs.

Anyhow, I don't think I have a clear voice yet or anything per se that sets my work apart.  However, I find I am drawn back to certain things over and over.  I tend to like graphic shapes and bold colors.  I use a lot of metallic threads, paints, and fabrics. I'm also drawn most often to non-cotton fabrics.  These two things combined might lead you to think I like sparkly, shiny finishes and fun textures and that's right!

3. Why do I write/create what I do? 

Because I have to.  If I'm not creating the noise in my head is unbearable.

4. How does my writing/creating process work?

I do very limited sketching by hand (something I've been working on improving) but most of my designing is usually done in adobe illustrator and adobe photoshop.  I definitely prefer to have things fairly well planned out ahead of time.   I'll typically work from a full scale print out of my design.  

My ideas sometimes come from nature, but more often they are related to some sort of science-y something.  I'm a cell biologist by day, and while I don't usually make things directly related to my research, I do usually have some sort of scientific or biological idea at the core of my pieces.

In terms of construction, my pieces are usually machine applique or appli-pieced (a la Caryl Fallert).  I do some paper piecing (epp and foundation) but I'm not usually much of a traditional piecer.  If I'm using cotton fabrics, I'll typically appli-piece, whereas if I'm using synthetic fabrics I'll usually machine applique and seal the raw edges with a wood-burning tool (to avoid fraying edges).  I also frequently make and use silk screens in my work.  They can help me achieve crisp shapes and letters with lots of detail.

I quilt on my Janome 7700, mostly free motion. I really enjoy the quilting process, and spend vast quantities of time in boring meetings doodling quilting.   I sometimes embellish with yarn, decorative threads, beads etc.

So thanks to Teresa for the invite!  Definitely check out her blog.  I love that she works so successfully in multiple different styles!  She lives in Houston so I'm hoping we can meet up in person at IQF this year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Koala Teddy for Alex

It's super hard to believe, but Alex has turned 1!  I decided to crochet him a teddy bear, and I used the Koala-in-footie-pajamas pattern from Ana Paula Rimoli's Amigurumi Two!: Crocheted Toys for Me and You and Baby Too.  It's a fun easy crochet book I've had for a while.

I used just miscellaneous yarn I had on hand-  interestingly, all of the pajamas (except the beige/white stripe on his torso) is from a single skein.  I had no idea when I grabbed it out of the box, but apparently it wasn't just red mottled, but also purple mottled, blue mottled, and pink mottled.  The colors change really slowly too so it looks like he has one bluish leg, but I promise it's the same skein of yarn!  In spite of the weird color changes, the yarn is super soft so the bear is very cuddly.  Since Alex is so little, I stitched all the facial features/details (the star and the nose are felt) rather than using buttons or doll eyes.  I love crocheting stuffed animals and I hope he enjoys this one!

Happy Birthday precious precious Alex!

Friday, August 29, 2014

New Mandala Quilt

You guys may remember my quilt Ring Around the Mole, completed earlier this year.  It's been hanging at the Hubbard Museum of the American West in a SAQA exhibit, and I was recently contacted by some people who wanted to commission a similar quilt, but with different animals.

Ring Around the Mole

I met with them and worked up a design they liked so I'm moving forwards.  It's the first time I've made a second quilt in the same vein as a prior one and I'm trying to track how the two compare. The design process took about as much time as before, only two of the animals (the armadillos and the deer) were the same as in my project, but I didn't have so much difficulty with Illustrator as I did last time.  Designing Ring Around the Mole was really my first foray into vector graphics and designing a quilt that way, so it helped this time around to be much more familiar with the software.

Here are three different colored versions of the new design.  The clients wanted their ranch logo in the middle and then cardinals, squirrels, rabbits, chocolate labs, armadillos, horses, longhorns, deer, catfish, great blue herons, crested caracaras, red-tailed hawks, and great horned owls.  If I've done my job correctly, you should see all of those below!  One thing that stood out to me this time was the bird feet.  My first quilt had all mammals, so there weren't any bird feet, but it was quite challenging to draw all the different bird feet for this one.

They liked the middle version of the coloring so I'll be using that as my starting spot for finding fabrics.  A lot of the precise colors will depend on what I find, and of course the colors will be much more vibrant and textured in fabric than in the drawings.  As before, I'm going to have to be careful to prevent it from getting too busy, but I think I'll be able to find a balance.  I'm excited to be starting something new, and it was fun to mock up a design for someone who I knew really liked my quilts.